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JIM: Did Col. Belknap draw biggest crowd ever in Columbia, KY?

Jim poses a question: Was the campaign visit by Col. Morris Belknap, the Republican candidate for Governor in 1903, the first gubenatorial election after the assassination of Governor Wm. Goebel, the largest crowd ever assembled in Columbia. It may have been, by accounts of the Hartford Republican whose account included the following passage: 'Never in the history of Kentucky did a candidate for Governor make a more triumphal entry into Columbia than did Morris Belknap Tuesday.'

By JIM

The Courthouse bedecked: Col. Belknap comes to Adair County

"...and politics -- the damedest / in Kentucky." (Judge J.H. Mulliagan, 1902)

The gubernatorial election of 1903 was a strange beast -- even by Kentucky standards.


As would have any Republican nominee in 1903, Morris Burke Belknap of Louisville (and late a Colonel in the Spanish-American War) carried the albatross of the election of 1899. In the Democratic convention that year, William Goebel had, by near-Machiavellian maneuverings, walked away with the nomination over Wm. J. Stone and Adair County native Parker W. "P. Wat" Hardin. Come November, however, Republican William S. Taylor won the popular vote but by various machinations, Goebel was declared the winner. On January 30th, 1900, Goebel was shot, and justly or not, the act was laid squarely at the feet of the Republicans.

Incumbent John Crepps Wickliffe (J.C.W.) Beckham carried the banner for the Democratic party. By all rights, Beckham shouldn't have been allowed in the contest, as at the time a sitting governor couldn't succeed himself. However, a friendly court ruled that he hadn't been elected to the position but rather had been elevated thereto by the assassination of Gov. Goebel and that Beckham was free to seek the office in 1903 by election. The court saw fit to overlook that Beckham had won the special election held in the fall of 1900 to determine who would serve the last three years of Goebel's term.

Meanwhile, back in Adair County, the News, a staunchly Democratic paper in a predominantly Republican county, fired volley after volley at the Belknap ticket and, of course, heaped praise on Beckham & Co. Shortly before the election, the News stated that "Mr. Beckham is familiar with the business of the State; Mr. Belknap knows the hardware business," and Lawrence Rousseau of Glasgow was quoted as saying, "If Belknap was running for apples he could not get to the orchard."

The Wednesday, October 28, 1903 edition (published on Tuesday, the 27th) reported that Col. Belknap would address the citizens of Adair County that (Tuesday) afternoon, and added

As we go to press people from all parts of the county are entering Columbia and the indications are that a large crowd will hear the speaker. Several Republicans of the town have been active for several weeks, organizing clubs, and it is said these organizations will march into town as one body.

By the time the next edition of the paper hit the stands on November 4th, the election was over and no additional mention appeared of Belknap's visit to Columbia.

However, Col. Belknap's Adair County appearance drew considerable notice in the Friday, October 28th edition of the Hartford Republican, the political stance of that paper being somewhat self-evident. Under a panoply of headlines and garnished with a flourish of hyperbole, the article informed readers of The Republican that an enthusiastic crowd started gathering in Columbia hours in advance of Belknap's arrival, and that

The Court House, which stands in the center of the principal Square, was bedecked with flags and bunting, the banners floated from every business house, while the people of Adair marched through the streets waving flags and cheering for Belknap.

Not long before he was to arrive in Columbia, continued the paper, "Hundreds of prominent citizens of Columbia and Adair County formed a monster parade and marched out [of town] to meet the guests of honor," and as soon as the vanguard of the parade arrived back in town, "pandemonium broke out." Said The Republican, "Never in the history of Kentucky did a candidate for Governor make a more triumphal entry into Columbia than did Morris Belknap Tuesday."

After a brief reception at "the hotel" (whether this was the Hancock Motel on Burkesville Street or the Marcum Hotel on the Square wasn't noted), Messrs. Belknap and Edward T. Franks, the latter described elsewhere as "one of the wheel-horses of the Republican party in Kentucky," made their way to the south portico of the Courthouse, whereupon "a cheer went up which lasted several minutes."

Belknap wasn't known for his oratorical prowess, but perhaps the fired-up crowd that day lent power and grace to his rhetoric, as "the speaker's address was frequently interrupted with applause from the throats of 4,000 to 5,000 enthusiastic hearers who were unable to control their jubilant feelings."

Despite the raucous welcome he received in Columbia and a majority in the county of 298 votes come election day, Col. Belknap fell short of the glory statewide by about six percentage points, a quite respectable loss by a challenger to an incumbent governor.

In closing, a question and a comment:

A question: Does the "4,000 to 5,000 enthusiastic hearers" gathered on the Square that October day five score and eleven years ago qualify as one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Adair County?

A comment: In March, 1904, three months after J.C.W. Beckham was sworn in as governor, he signed the infamous Day Law, the most odious piece of legislation ever to bear the signature of Kentucky politicians.

Compiled by JIM


This story was posted on 2011-10-23 08:55:04
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